Saab 900: all the classic car you'll ever need

Updated: Apr 10, 2020



The classic Saab 900 shouldn't really have worked. When it was launched in 1978 it was a 'make do', a stretched version of the 10 year old Saab 99 that was meant to push the firm upmarket just long enough to enable a proper, ground-up new car to be launched.

Instead, it lasted 16 years, almost outliving the car that was meant to replace it, the 9000.

There's a very good reason why. Most of the million or so people who forked out for a brand new 900 probably understood that they were getting into a creaky old design. But they didn't care. Because until 1994, when it was finally replaced by a new model, there was simply nothing like the 900 on the market. And the virtues that sold nearly 1 million 900s when new remain solid reasons why you should buy one now. Here's why.

1. It's Built To Last

When Saab was building the 99 and 900 it was a small, independent concern. It engineered its cars to last, because they had to - harsh Scandinavian winters and roads punished cars. Which is why most European manufacturers sent their cars there for development testing.

Unlike those other European car makers, Saab didn't have the parsimonious bean counters that sucked the very life out of the firms they worked for. Compared to the massive Saab aeroplane business, the car factory was a play thing. A hobby. So Saabs were built as the engineers really intended. From thick steel. With safety not just in mind, but front of mind. The 900 was so strong that it had to be adapted to comply with US safety standards that had never encountered a car like it. You could lift a Saab up by its door handles without compromising the structure. And the engines lasted too. The basic unit may have been a Triumph slant four, but there the similarities ended. Saab effectively re-engineered the whole thing to be more reliable and more durable. 200,000 miles is barely run in for a 900.

Of course, Saabs rust. The doors trap moisture, the arches rot and they deteriorate in places you can't actually see. But they're made of metal. It eventually comes with the territory.

2. It's Comfortable

Modern ergonomics started here

Quite a lot of the car ideas that we now take for granted started at Saab. Like dashboards conveniently organised by function and within easy reach of fingertips. Ergonomically designed seats. Heated seats. Excellent heating and ventilation. A driving position totally designed around the driver, not how best to cram everything into a tight space.


Logical & ground-breaking dashboard layout

All of which makes the Saab feel surprisingly modern for a classic car. The ideas pioneered in the 900 have become common currency. And remained so because they are just so right.

3. It's Great To Drive

Turbo lag is your friend

The Saab's quirkiness and character often tend to crowd out the fact that a well sorted 900 is a brilliant car to drive. The clever suspension set up provides direct, accurate steering while the car's suitability for high speed ice driving mean it is an adept and willing B-road banzai.

And then there's that engine. The 2 litre motor may have been long in the tooth by the time it was dropped into the 900 but it was still a great powerplant. And, of course, it was turbocharged by the people who brought turbocharging to the masses. The full pressure 175 bhp 'Aero' turbos are a hoot, a mix of dawdling off-boost trundling and insane boosted, tyre-scrabbling power. The 900's Achilles heel is the gearbox, a slightly notchy affair that doesn't cope well with all the power. But that's a minor niggle in the face of such joy.

The 900 really is a car you can jump in and drive hundreds of miles and get out at the other end ready to face the rest of your day. It's a classic. But a genuine daily driver too.

4. It's Practical

Narrow but comfortable cabin

The 900 may be a bit narrow by modern standards but the extra length front and back - Saab just tacked on a longer nose and boot to the original 99 structure - means that the popular hatchback is simply massive. Cabin space is also good, although you may need to jostle for elbow room. After the old Saab 95 bowed out of production in 1978 the company didn't build a new estate car until after the 900's demise because they never needed to.

5. It's Classless

Fast & with sp